October 3, 2023

Enable bids to defend Arc crown

Enable is back to defend her Arc title at the revamped ParisLongchamp (Photo courtesy Scoopdyga/Elliott Chouraqui)

Superstar filly Enable retains the bettors’ faith ahead of her title defense in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Despite the fact she’ll be making just her second start back from a year-long layoff, and racing at ParisLongchamp for the first time, the John Gosden trainee is currently trading at even-money with several bookmakers.

Enable showed all the right signs in her comeback in the September (G3) at Kempton, where she traveled with her old zest and comfortably disposed of a high-class colt in Crystal Ocean. Still, the question remains whether her front-running tour of the Polytrack, in a four-horse field, can have her spot-on for Europe’s fall championship event. By this time last year, Enable had built up toward her crescendo with a sequence of victories, including an unprecedented sweep of the Epsom and Irish Oaks (G1), King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), and Yorkshire Oaks (G1).

The fact that the Juddmonte homebred won her Arc at its temporary staging post of Chantilly, and now encounters its true home, only adds another variable into the mix. Will her forward style play as well around ParisLongchamp, especially with an Aidan O’Brien relay team likely to turn it into a searing stamina test?

After all, the Ballydoyle quintet is headed by the past two St Leger (G1) winners. Recent Doncaster hero Kew Gardens, the mount of Ryan Moore, boasts a course-and-distance score in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) on Bastille Day. Capri, who captured the all-star 2017 Leger, previously garnered the Irish Derby (G1) over heavyweights Cracksman and Waldgeist. O’Brien longshots Nelson and Hunting Horn will presumably go forward early in hopes of setting the table. Yet Kew Gardens has to defy history – you’ve got to go back to Alleged (1977) to find an Arc winner exiting the St Leger – and Capri likewise faces trends against horses coming off unplaced runs. That said, Capri needed his Prix Foy (G2) tune-up badly after being sidelined nearly all season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hits the board, from a plum post 4, with Donnacha O’Brien.

Note also that the four-year-old Enable is not as well treated at the weights as she was at three. The daughter of Nathaniel gets only three pounds from the older males, while having to concede three pounds to the sophomore colts, and seven pounds to the three-year-old fillies aspiring to continue the trend.

Over the last decade, four of the 10 Arc winners fit that demographic, from Zarkava (2008) and Danedream (2011) to Treve in her first Arc (2013) and Enable, and Sea of Class hopes to make it five. By 2009 Arc champion Sea of Stars and out of the prolific Holy Moon, a mare by 1994 Arc near-misser Hernando, Sea of Class has been brought along carefully by William Haggas. Unraced at two, and just caught in her Newmarket premiere in April, she graduated from a pair of listed stakes wins to classic glory. Sea of Class toppled Epsom Oaks winner Forever Together in the Irish equivalent, then mowed down her elders in a salty Yorkshire Oaks.

Supplemented earlier this week, Sea of Class is the clear second choice, but her post 15 is not helpful. Nor would the ground if it gets much softer for the firm-turf lover. The only other sophomore filly, O’Brien’s Magical, takes a dramatic step up in trip after a fourth in the one-mile Matron (G1). Her nearest brush with a Group 1 trophy came in last fall’s Moyglare Stud (G1), and during a stop-start 2018, she outclassed her Kilboy Estate (G2) foes on the front end.

Andre Fabre, the Arc’s all-time leading trainer, launches a three-pronged attack led by Waldgeist. The third betting choice, and best-backed male, was a Group 1 winner at two, “nearly” horse at three, but now at the peak of his powers at four. Waldgeist brings a four-race winning streak highlighted by the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and a convincing prep in the Prix Foy over stablemates Talismanic and Cloth of Stars. If it’s been 11 years since an older male won the Arc (Dylan Thomas in 2007), you could argue that we’re overdue.

Reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic is principally gearing up for a title defense at Churchill Downs, since Fabre believes that the 1 1/2-mile trip stretches his stamina a bit too much in Europe compared to the gentler American conditions. But his Godolphin comrade, Cloth of Stars, has no such barriers as last year’s closing runner-up in the Arc.

Defoe would be a viable candidate among the big longshots, if post 18 doesn’t shipwreck his prospects. Although he’s another older male trying to defy the trends, the Roger Varian pupil has impressed versus lesser, and his prerequisite for softish ground has kept him out of the marquee Group 1s over the summer. The son of 2003 Arc hero Dalakhani resumed from his holiday with a close second in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1), and in amenable conditions, he’ll have the chance to put his best foot forward.

Another eligible to outperform his odds, but much better drawn in post 11, is Neufbosc. In a series of fine efforts at this track and trip, the Pia Brandt trainee scored in the Prix du Lys (G3) and Prix de l’Avre, came second best to Kew Gardens in the Grand Prix de Paris, and turned in a sneakily-good third in the Prix Niel (G2) on Arc trials day. The Niel wasn’t as deep as in past years, but once upon a time that’s where you looked for the likeliest three-year-old colt.

Study of Man appeared to be going places after defeating Patascoy and Louis D’Or in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1), but the Niarchos homebred has underperformed in his past two. He’s also trying 1 1/2 miles for the first time, not a recipe for Arc success historically. Professional bridesmaid Salouen consistently collects placings, including a near-upset of Cracksman in the Coronation Cup (G1) and a third to Waldgeist in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, but the pacey type has his work cut out in this big a field with others intent on forcing the issue. Japan’s Clincher doesn’t have the resume of his countrymen who’ve come close, while Tiberian hasn’t progressed since coming back from his seventh in last year’s Melbourne Cup (G1), and Way to Paris has a task on his form with Waldgeist.

However the Arc unfolds, it is sure to have a significant bearing on the Breeders’ Cup Turf picture. Gosden has already indicated that a fresh Enable could turn up at Churchill Downs. If so, an Arc loss would serve her better from a trends perspective going into the Breeders’ Cup.

Thus if fortune smiles on Enable, who’s perfectly drawn in post 6 in the Arc, she’ll win one for the ages with Frankie Dettori. And if she doesn’t, she’ll always have Louisville.